Lead-Up Viking Battles to 1014

The Battle of Sulcoit 968

The Battle of Sulcoit fought in County Tipperary was a ruthless battle between the Dal gCais and the Viking Norse of Limerick. Brian Boru (Bryan Boru) together with his brother Mahon led the Dal gCais against the Vikings of Limerick led by their Viking King Ivar.

As Mahon had made a truce with the Vikings, Brian was devastated having seen his mother brutally murdered by the Vikings. The brothers split and eventually Mahon asked the young Brian to leave his side. Brian did so taking a small band of supporters with him, and as word spread his army grew in strength. They lived in the mountains and launched several attacks on Viking settlements.

After a time, the brothers were reconciled once again when Brian invited him to his wedding to Mór. During this time the ancient seat of Cashel had become lost to the Danes but Brian had defeated the Danes in 968 and restored Cashel to its rightful heir. Mahon, seeing this, renounced his truce with the Vikings. Together once again side by side the brothers and their Dalcassians grew in strength. They went on to face and defeat the Vikings in many other battles.

Word got to Ivar of Limerick of the uniting and rising of the brothers, so he gathered his Danish army and headed towards Cashel. But Mahon and Brian together with their Dalcassian army marched out and cut them off at Sulcoit, a district near the current Limerick Junction. The battle began at the break of dawn in 968, and lasted until that afternoon, when the Vikings gave way and fled into the surrounding fields towards Limerick. The Dalcassians in pursuit slaughtered them all the way to Limerick, and took possession of the city. This battle was the first major victory for Mahon and his brother. Mahon became King of all Munster and ruled peacefully for eight years.

The Battle of Cathair Cuan c978

The Battle of Cathair Cuan in or between 977 and 978 in northern Munster was another battle in the rise to power in Munster of Brian Boru (Bryan Boru) and his men. Brian Bóruma and the Dal gCais, faced Donnubán mac Cathail, or Donovan, son of Cathal. Cathal was a powerful ruler of the Uí Cairbre tribe based on the banks of the Maigue in Adare, Co. Limerick, who had married the daughter of Ivar, the Viking King of Limerick. Donovan their son settled in and ruled from Bruree further down the Maigue river,  in Co. Limerick. At the time of the battle, Donovan was in command together with Aralt mac Ímair, third son of the recently slain Ivar and the remaining Viking army of Limerick. As Donovan was involved in the death of Brian's brother, and Brian had killed his father-in-law this was no doubt a fierce and vengeful clash.

Brian, together with the Dal gCais, won the battle resulting in Limerick, its medieval fort and vast territories being lost by the Vikings to the Gaels. After this defeat the O'Donovans' power was greatly reduced and they were eventually displaced to Kerry and West Cork (Rosscarbery) by the time of the Normans.

Again as the Dal gCais were gainig ground, Brian's reputation as a fierce warrior and contender for High Kingship grew.

The Battle of Bealach Leachta c978

The Battle of Bealach Leachta (the Way of the Stones), marked another major defeat of the Danes in Ireland. Fought in Munster in c.978, on the riverside plain near Macroom, Co. Cork, this battle was a deadly clash between Brian Bóruma (Bryan Boru), now head of the Dal gCais, and Máel Muad mac Brian, King of Munster, leader of the O'Mahonys and the O'Donovans.

Ivar of Limerick had returned to Ireland and with several chieftains, plotted the death of Mahon. Brian, to avenge his brother's murder, had challenged Ivar to single combat and won, killing his opponent. This took place on Scattery Island, Co. Clare. Brian, now head of the Dal gCais, sought out and killed Donovan. 

Brian's army had grown significantly as many minor chieftains began to recognise his potential. Mael Muad (O'Mahony) had the support of the O'Donovans of Carbery (whose leader Donovan had also been killed by Brian), as well as 1500 Danes. At the battle, Máel Muad fell, killed by Brian's son Murchad, along with many others.

Brian Boru was victorious on this day and hence became King of all Munster. Bryan Boru was by now a serious contender for the position of High King of Ireland.

The Battle of Tara 980

This battle was fought near the Hill of Tara in the year 980, and paved the way to taking back control of a powerful Viking Dublin and freeing Irish slaves. On one side was the head of the Southern Uí Néill, Mael Sechnaill mac Domnaill, with support from Ulster and Leinster and on the other was the Norse Army from Dublin led by Ragnall (half-brother of Sigtrygg) and son of Olaf Cuaran (Curren), the powerful King of Dublin and York. These were in turn supported by Danes from the Hebrides off the Scottish coast. 

This battle lasted three days and resulted in the Vikings suffering a deadly defeat at the hands of Mael Sechnaill mac Domnaill and the Uí Néill Clan and resulted in heavy casualties for the Vikings.  The army of Meath went on to besiege the city of Dublin and forced it to surrender and hand over control to Mael Sechnaill. Olaf fled and later died in Iona off the coast of Scotland. Mael Sechnaill remained High King for another twenty-two years until the reign of Brian Boru thereafter.

This battle was the most decisive defeat for the Vikings, as Olaf Cuaran was the last great leader of the Vikings in Ireland. The Kingdom of Dublin never retained the Norse status it had once held by the great Viking leader. This battle was a significant battle in that it ended any Viking threat of greater domination of Vikings in Ireland.

The Battle of Glenmama 999

Following a truce between Brian Boru (Bryan Boru) and Mael Sechnaill in 997 when they agreed to divide and control their respective halves of the country, Mael Sechnaill ruled over the North and Brian over the South of Ireland. They were able to put their efforts in to quelling revolts in Leinster and taking back Dublin.

Mael Mórda mac Murchada, King of Leinster and Sigrygg Silkbeard, the Danish King of Dublin had allied together to revolt against the rule of the High King. As Brian and Mael Sechnaill’s armies marched on Dublin, Mael Mórda and Sigtrygg combined their forces and met them at the Wicklow pass, Dunlavin known as “Military Road” at the Battle of Glenmama in 999. The fighting was bloody and gruesome in the freezing mountains in a cold Wicklow winter, and Brian and Sechnaill’s army were triumphant in deadly and difficult conditions. Mael Mórda's armies were forced to rout in three directions. Their pursuit by the Brian and Mael Sechnaill led them to Dublin where Brian assumed control of the city. After this battle, both Mael Mórda and Sigtrygg submitted but not for long and a second revolt led to the infamous Battle of Clontarf.